CS Lewis prayed that God would give him an anonymous death, and he got it. Lewis died the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I half wondered if Farrah Fawcett had wished for the same, because she certainly got it. Only hours after she succumbed to cancer, Michael Jackson was dead.
I was in Yosemite the day Elvis died. It was the annual family vacation, and I was stuck at Camp Curry eating an ice cream cone while my older brothers scaled half dome. I just remember a field, an ice cream cone, and my father returning with the Modesto Bee.
I was taking a biology final the day John Lennon was shot. I flipped on the radio on the way home and heard "Imagine there's no heaven," and turned off the song half way through. My father told me when I got home. But I knew it before he even finished the sentence.
This past Thursday I was sitting in the parking lot of Target, listening to my voice messages. I gasped when I heard about Jackson, and a bible verse slipped out of my mouth before I could think.
I was never a huge Michael Jackson fan. Sure, “ABC 123” is fun for a dance party. But when Michael hit big in the 1980s, I was in film school. It was hip to be cynical and listen to Elvis Costello and the Clash. But there was one jaded guy in my film group who gushed over Thriller. I had to admit he was right. Even if it wasn’t my kind of music, it was great music.
Five days before Michael Jackson’s death I was staring at a photo of him online: the closeup of his chalk skin, the permanent eyeliner and brows, the girl hair, and the nose taped onto his face. “This won’t end well,” I said to myself. Even Michael thought so, he told then-wife Lisa Marie Presley that he feared he’d end up like her father. Looks like he did. Prescription drugs are suspected.
People were all over facebook and twitter with an outpouring of well wishes, grief, and tribute; posting their favorite Michael Jackson songs or the results of their “Which Michael Jackson song are you?” I read only one negative comment: “Wait a minute guys,” a friend chimed in. “The guy was a pedophile.”
Well, an acquitted pedophile.
Looking at a photo gallery of Michael through the years is like watching individual still frames from the Zapruder film. You just beg for them not to move forward. Don’t drive in a convertible, Mr. Kennedy. Don’t change your nose, Michael. And please don’t invite the boys over.
Who knows how Michael fragmented into a man/child horror show. Maybe because he never had a childhood, never had a moment of anonymity. He went from an abusive, perfectionist father to a merciless, perfectionist industry where failure is unacceptable. Who could really grow up in those conditions and be normal? And aren't we, the public, somewhat responsible for his fame and fragmentation? As Paul Simon sang, "every generation throws a hero up the pop charts."
I have watched my well-balanced, adult friends get famous, and they have a hard time with it. Imagine how much more difficult for someone like Michael Jackson. Yes he probably was a pedophile, and a victim, and a tortured soul. A terrific musician, a sad broken psyche. I wondered if in the afterlife, we are automatically healed from our earthly wounds, or if it's a process. If I rule out redemption even for pedophiles, I've ruled it out for myself. And to that, can only think of the verse that tumbled from my lips the moment I heard. “Oh Lord, in wrath: remember mercy.”